1743
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

A Pastoral Ballad, in four Parts.

A Collection of Poems in four Volumes. By Several Hands. [Robert Dodsley, ed.]

William Shenstone


Twenty-seven double-quatrain stanzas, written in 1743 and belatedly published in 1755 as the concluding poem in the fourth volume of Dodsley's Collection. The general model is George Lyttelton's The Progress of Love (1732). Shenstone modifies this source by introducing a melancholy conclusion, and substituting anapestic double-quatrains (after Rowe's Collin's Complaint) for Lyttleton's couplets. The poet hesitated between calling his pastoral lyric an "elegy" or a "ballad"; while he was not the first to use this measure, it became as inextricably associated with this popular poem as the blank-verse quatrain would become with Collins's Ode to Evening.

The Pastoral Ballad is not, like Shenstone's Schoolmistress, written in Spenser's manner, though its plaintive tone and hapless simplicity surely derive from Shenstone's study of Spenser. The diction and imagery have the sort of vivid peculiarity that typifies the better examples of Spenserian fiction, and the associations with landscape gardening, provincialism, and sentimentality would endear this poem to eighteenth-century readers of an imaginative cast of mind. "Paridel," the name of the poet's rival, is taken from the libertine knight in the Faerie Queene. The Pastoral Ballad was reprinted frequently and was likely influencial on romantic treatments of "nature" and "simplicity" long after Shenstone's pastoral mode went out of fashion in the early nineteenth century.

The second part of A Pastoral Ballad, "Hope," was set to music by Thomas Arne and as "My banks they are furnish'd with bees" and became a popluar song. Shenstone's poem became the basis for a new pastoral mode of lyrics in anapestic quatrains. The series is characterized by a very narrow range of diction and subjects, chiefly amorous, but more generously concerned with matters of country life and aesthetics. John Cunningham was the key figure this modal transformation of Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad in Poems, chiefly Pastoral (1766); in the 1780s and 1790s Dr. William Perfect created an entire oeuvre out of the pastoral ballad mode. This series of pastoral lyrics was largely contemporaneous with the revival of the sonnet, and can be similiarly regarded as part of the revival of "Elizabethan" forms in eighteenth-century literature.

William Shenstone to Richard Jago: "I send you my pastoral elegy (or ballad, if you think that name more proper), on condition that you return it with ample remarks in your next letter: I say 'return it,' because I have no other copy, and am too indolent to take one" 1743; in Letters, ed. Mallam (1939) 59.

William Shenstone to Lady Luxborough: "The Objections you made to the Canto on Sollicitude I believe are entirely just. I have therefore omitted a considerable part of it, and endeavour'd to improve the rest; but with what success, I want greatly to be satisfy'd. Never was I puzzled more than in tricking out that pastoral Fop Sir Paridel; yet I think, that when my head is clearest, there is not kind of Humour in which I could more easily succeed. The Stanzas in particular, wherein he compliments his Mistress by the trite resemblance of Flowers, cost me no small Pains. Your Ladyship, if you cannot any way approve them, will I'm sure assist a poor bewilder'd Poet who applies to you as a Genius, a Florist, and a Friend" 10 January 1755; Letters, ed. Mallam (1939) 309.

Richard Graves: "He had always admired Rowe's song of the 'Despairing Shepherd,' said to have been written on Mr. Addison and the Countess of Warwick. And, I believe, on parting from Miss G— on some occasion, Mr. Shenstone first sketched out his 'Pastoral Ballad' in that style; which I saw two or three years before he went to Cheltenham, in the summer of 1743. But meeting there, and becoming very intimate with Miss C—, who is still living, he became so far enamoured, as to feel himself unhappy on leaving Cheltenham and the object of his passion. On this occasion he enlarged, and divided it into the four distinct parts, under the titles of 'Absence,' 'Hope,' 'Solicitude,' and 'Disappointment.' Whether Mr. Shenstone was really so deeply in love, as he here describes himself, may perhaps be questioned; for, as Lord Shaftesbury observes, 'A small foundation of any passion will serve us, not only to act it well, but even to work ourselves into it beyond our own reach'" Recollections of some Particulars in the Life of the late William Shenstone (1788) 103-04.

Anna Seward: "In Shenstone's poems we see the elegant, yet natural ideas of a man of imagination, taste, and sensibility, who, though versed in polite learning, is not ideally, but literally, devoted to the simplicity of pastoral life; superintending the health and safety of his own flocks and herds; leading the ductile pathway through the loveliest glade; the vagrant rill in those winding channels, so dear to beauty; and nourishing, in the bosom of his own vale, all the delicacy of social and friendly intercourse, and all the sweetness of enamoured affection" February 1763; Poetical Works (1810) 1:lxxxiv.

David Erskine Baker: "as I am on the Subject of Pastoral Writing, I cannot omit observing that we have an Author at present living, who seems, tho' less noticed than either of these Gentlemen [Ambrose Philips and Alexander Pope], not only to excell them both, but even every other Writer of this or any other Period; nor do I doubt that many of my Readers will join with me in this Opinion, if they either have read, or will give themselves the Pleasure of perusing, Mr. Shenstone's little Pieces, published in the IVth Volume of Dodsley's Collection of Poems, particularly one Poem, entitled a Pastoral Ballad, in four Parts" Companion to the Play-House (1764) 2:Sigs Bb3v.

Oliver Goldsmith: "These ballads of Mr. Shenstone are chiefly commended for the natural simplicity of the thoughts, and the harmony of the versification. However, they are not excellent in either" Beauties of English Poesy (1767) 2:145.

Samuel Johnson: "the four parts of his Pastoral Ballad demand particular notice. I cannot but regret that it is pastoral; an intelligent reader acquainted with the scenes of real life sickens at the mention of the crook, the pipe, the sheep, and the kids, which it is not necessary to bring forward to notice, for the poet's art is selection, and he ought to shew the beauties without the grossness of the country life. His stanza seems to have been chosen in imitation of Rowe's 'Despairing Shepherd'" "Life of Shenstone" (1779); ed. Hill (1905) 3:356.

Anna Seward to Richard Polwhele, 25 May 1792: "Shenstone appears to me the only professed pastoral writer, who has struck the true pastoral chords; who possesses the graceful simplicity which those of Virgil and Pope want, without any of that coarseness, into which, attempting to be more natural by painting vulgar nature, Spenser, Gay, and Philips fell. Shenstone, actually living amidst rural cares, and in the cultivation of scenic beauty, "wrote as he felt." He places before us the landscapes by which he was surrounded; and all the coy graces of a refined imagination and a feeling heart, flow naturally in his verse. Ample is their power to elevate and render interesting the benevolent employments of the country gentleman, blended with the pursuits of the scholar and the man of taste; the easy dignity of fervent friendship, and the animated yet delicate solicitude of growing passion. Something, surely, of excellence must be wanting in the head or heart of those who perceive not the magic influence of these unobtrusive, these genuine beauties of description, and of sentiment; who forget that we owe the happiest imitation of Spenser's best manner to this poet" Polwhele, Traditions and Recollections (1826) 1:294-95.

Edward Williams: "The Reader will observe, that the term Lyric Pastoral has often been used, and will, perhaps, ask, for what reason? — It is this — We often observe Shepherds, and other rural characters, diverting themselves with songs, which are always, in the proper sense of the word, 'sung' to a 'tune'; the verse of course must be Lyric; SHENSTONE'S Pastoral Ballads are, for this reason, amongst others, far more natural than the Bucolics of Theocritus, Virgil, and many more that could be named; this at least is a Welsh Bard's opinion, who admits of no authority but that of NATURE" Poems, Lyric and Pastoral (1794) 1:190-91.

George Gregory: "We have many beautiful compositions of this kind in our language. Gay, Cunningham, Rowe, and Shenstone have all left specimens of the pastoral ballad, but that of Mr. Shenstone, in our parts, is generally esteemed the best. It is all beautiful" Letters on Literature, Taste, and Composition (1808) 2:145.

James Bannatine: "Who can with patience hear the unmeaning and endless repetition of faithless nymphs; dying swains; sighing breezes; purling rills; murmuring fountains; cooling grots; listening echoes; enamelled meads; tender lambkins; cooing doves; tuneful reeds; curling vines; perjured shepherds; and the sickening train of Corydons and Daphnes — Strephons and Cloes — Damons and Phillises? There may be occasionally a prettiness, which a man of understanding will be pleased with, as we would with a pretty child; or, to come nearer to the point, a pretty inanimate doll of a woman. It has, however, a fascination for young minds. I remember, when I thought Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad one of the most charming compositions in the English language; but at that period of life I also admired the Death of Abel, and Hervey's Meditations!" "On Pastoral Poetry" Monthly Magazine 27 (May 1809) 332.

The Portico [Baltimore]: "The chief beauties of the Pastoral Ballad, are obvious to the most common perception, and may be thus explained. Its simplicity is its characteristick feature, immediately derived from the genius of the poet; and is so elegant and refined as to impart unvarying pleasure to the most fastidious reader; it is this quality that gives all his sentiments so high a zest, and his feelings so great an influence. Had he written in any other manner, the essence of this agreeable simplicity, would have been wholly lost, disfigured, or obscured, by inconsistent modes, and artificial situations. In this sense, therefore, he is not less commendable for the choice of his manner, than he is to be admired fro the perfection of his fancy, and the exuberance of his images" "Remarks on the Writings of Shenstone" 5 (January 1818) 51.

The Minerva [New York]: "Perhaps Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad is one of the most perfect poems in this species of writing in the English language; if we except Allan Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd, which is without a parallel for tenderness of sentiment" 1 (1 February 1823) 340.

Walter Savage Landor: "Shenstone, when he forgot his Strephons and Corydons and followed Spenser, became a poet" Imaginary Conversations (1828) 2:161.

Robert Chambers: "His highest effort is the Schoolmistress, a descriptive sketch in imitation of Spenser, so delightfully quaint and ludicrous, yet true to nature, that it has all the force and vividness of a painting by Teniers or Wilkie. His Pastoral Ballad, in four parts, is also the finest English poem of that order. The pastorals of Spenser do not aim at lyrical simplicity, and no modern poet has approached Shenstone in the simple tenderness and pathos of pastoral song. Mr. Campbell seems to regret the affected Arcadianism of these pieces, which undoubtedly present an incongruous mixture of pastoral life and modern manners. But, whether from early associations (for almost every person has read Shenstone's ballad in youth), or from the romantic simplicity, the true touches of nature and feeling, and the easy versification of the stanzas, they are always read and remembered with delight. We must surrender up the judgment to the imagination in perusing them, well knowing that no such Corydons or Phylisses are to be found; but this is a sacrifice which the Faery Queen equally demands, and which few readers of poetry are slow to grant" Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:36.

George Gilfillan: "His Pastoral Ballad is perhaps of too artificial a structure for its name, but has some touches which recall to your recollection the ballad-poetry of Scotland, and the songs of Burns. A higher compliment cannot be bestowed" Memoir in Shenstone, Poetical Works (1854) xxi.

George Saintsbury: "Shenstone is our principal master of what may perhaps be called the artificial-natural style in poetry; and the somewhat lasting hold which some at least of his poems have taken on the popular ear is the best testimony that can be produced to his merit. It is very hard to shape any critical canons likely to pass muster nowadays, and yet capable of saving the bulk of his verse. But the first and second of his Pastoral Ballads always fix themselves in the memory of those who, possessing that faculty, are set in childhood to the not very grateful task of learning them; and on re-reading them years after, they do not wholly lose their charm, though the reader may be tempted rather to smile than to sympathise" The English Poets, ed. Thomas Humphry Ward (1880) 3:271.

Eric Partridge: "In 1743 Shenstone issued his Pastoral Ballad, which, written a year or two after The Schoolmistress, is memorable for the easy grace of its language and the smooth spontaneity of its versification. Except for several conventional names, the piece breathed a charming naturalness, and, though the theme be the common property of all poetry, whether Classical or Romantic, the end had something not exactly unexpected but at least off the beaten path of pastoral conclusions. Moreover, a pleasant love of nature informed the poem. The spontaneous simplicity characterising this poem represented a rupture with frigid and stiffly 'pastoral' diction (the verbal charm of Ramsay's Gentle Shepherd operated on the Ballad) and so with classicism.... The wholly delightful and dainty Pastoral Ballad constitutes the author's main right to be held an early Romantic, but this poem has too often been passed over in favour of The Schoolmistress, which, though undoubtedly superior, is yet not greatly superior" Eighteenth-Century English Romantic Poetry (1924) 78-79.

Duncan Mallam: "Graves (Recollection, pp. 103-06) says Shenstone's Pastoral Ballad, first sketched out in his parting from Miss Graves, was enlarged and divided into four parts on his returning from Miss Carter at Cheltenham. Shenstone was infatuated, but as Graves says, his purpose probably never was marriage; and since Miss Carter's sister was the wife of a baronet of considerable fortune, the lady would doubtless never have condescended to Shenstone. She is the Delia of his elegies and songs" Letters of William Shenstone (1939) 62n.



I. ABSENCE.
Ye shepherds so chearful and gay,
Whose flocks never carelessly roam;
Should Corydon's happen to stray,
Oh! call the poor wanderers home.
Allow me to muse and to sigh,
Nor talk of the change that ye find;
None once was so watchful as I:
—I have left my dear Phyllis behind.

Now I know what it is, to have strove
With the torture of doubt and desire;
What it is, to admire and to love,
And to leave her we love and admire.
Ah lead forth my flock in the morn,
And the damps of each ev'ning repel;
Alas! I am faint and forlorn:
—I have bade my dear Phyllis farewel.

Since Phyllis vouchsaf'd me a look,
I never once dreamt of my vine;
May I lose both my pipe and my crook,
If I knew of a kid that was mine.
I priz'd every hour that went by,
Beyond all that had pleas'd me before;
But now they are past, and I sigh;
And I grieve that I priz'd them no more.

But why do I languish in vain?
Why wander thus pensively here?
Oh! why did I come from the plain,
Where I fed on the smiles of my dear?
They tell me, my favourite maid,
The pride of that valley, is flown;
Alas! where with her I have stray'd,
I could wander with pleasure, alone.

When forc'd the fair nymph to forego,
What anguish I felt at my heart!
Yet I thought — but it might not be so—
'Twas with pain that she saw me depart.
She gaz'd, as I slowly withdrew;
My path I could hardly discern;
So sweetly she bade me adieu,
I thought that she bade me return.

The pilgrim that journeys all day
To visit some far-distant shrine,
If he bear but a relique away,
Is happy, nor heard to repine.
Thus widely remov'd from the fair,
Where my vows, my devotion, I owe,
Soft hope is the relique I bear,
And my solace wherever I go.

II. HOPE.
My banks they are furnish'd with bees,
Whose murmur invites me to sleep;
My grottos are shaded with trees,
And my hills are white-over with sheep.
I seldom have met with a loss,
Such health do my fountains bestow;
My fountains all border'd with moss,
Where the hare-bells and violets grow.

Not a pine in my grove is there seen,
But with tendrils of woodbine is bound:
Not a beech's more beautiful green,
But a sweet-briar entwines it around.
Not my fields, in the prime of the year,
More charms than my cattle unfold:
Not a brook that is limpid and clear,
But it glitters with fishes of gold.

One would think she might like to retire
To the bow'r I have labour'd to rear;
Not a shrub that I heard her admire,
But I hasted and planted it there.
Oh how sudden the jessamin strove
With the lilac to render it gay!
Already it calls for my love,
To prune the wild branches away.

From the plains, from the woodlands and groves,
What strains of wild melody flow?
How the nightingales warble their loves
From thickets of roses that blow!
And when her bright form shall appear,
Each bird shall harmoniously join
In a concert so soft and so clear,
As — she may not be fond to resign.

I have found out a gift for my fair;
I have found where the wood-pigeons breed:
But let me that plunder forbear,
She will say 'twas a barbarous deed.
For he ne'er could be true, she aver'd,
Who could rob a poor bird of its young:
And I lov'd her the more, when I heard
Such tenderness fall from her tongue.

I have heard her with sweetness unfold
How that pity was due to — a dove:
That it ever attended the bold,
And she call'd it the sister of love.
But her words such a pleasure convey,
So much I her accents adore,
Let her speak, and whatever she say,
Methinks I should love her the more.

Can a bosom so gentle remain
Unmov'd, when her Corydon sighs!
Will a nymph that is fond of the plain,
These plains and this valley despise?
Dear regions of silence and shade!
Soft scenes of contentment and ease!
Where I could have pleasingly stray'd,
If aught, in her absence, could please.

But where does my Phyllida stray?
And where are her grots and her bow'rs?
Are the groves and the valleys as gay,
And the shepherds as gentle as ours?
The groves may perhaps be as fair,
And the face of the valleys as fine;
The swains may in manners compare,
But their love is not equal to mine.

III. SOLICITUDE.
Why will you my passion reprove?
Why term it a folly to grieve?
Ere I shew you the charms of my love,
She is fairer than you can believe.
With her mien she enamours the brave;
With her wit she engages the free;
With her modesty pleases the grave;
She is ev'ry way pleasing to me.

O you that have been of her train,
Come and join in my amorous lays;
I could lay down my life for the swain,
That will sing but a song in her praise.
When he sings, may the nymphs of the town
Come trooping, and listen the while;
Nay on Him let not Phyllida frown;
—But I cannot allow her to smile.

For when Paridel tries in the dance
Any favour with Phyllis to find,
Oh how, with one trivial glance,
Might she ruin the peace of my mind?
In ringlets He dresses his hair,
And his crook is be-studded around;
And his pipe — oh may Phyllis beware
Of a magic there is in the sound.

'Tis His with mock passion to glow;
'Tis His in smooth tales to unfold,
"How her face is as bright as the snow,
And her bosom, be sure, is as cold?
How the nightingales labour the strain,
With the notes of his charmer to vie;
How they vary their accents in vain,
Repine at her triumphs, and die."

To the grove or the garden he strays,
And pillages every sweet;
Then, suiting the wreath to his lays
He throws it at Phyllis's feet.
"O Phyllis, he whispers, more fair,
More sweet than the jessamin's flow'r!
What are the pinks, in a morn, to compare?
What is eglantine, after a show'r?

"Then the lily no longer is white;
Then the rose is depriv'd of its bloom;
Then the violets die with despite,
And the wood-bines give up their perfume."
Thus glide the soft numbers along,
And he fancies no shepherd his peer;
—Yet I never should envy the song,
Were not Phyllis to lend it an ear.

Let his crook be with hyacinths bound,
So Phyllis the trophy despise;
Let his forehead with laurels be crown'd,
So they shine not in Phyllis's eyes.
The language that flows from the heart
Is a stranger to Paridel's tongue;
—Yet may she beware of his art,
Or sure I must envy the song.

IV. DISAPPOINTMENT.
Ye shepherds give ear to my lay,
And take no more heed of my sheep:
They have nothing to do, but to stray;
I have nothing to do, but to weep.
Yet do not my folly reprove;
She was fair — and my passion begun;
She smil'd — and I could not but love;
She is faithless — and I am undone.

Perhaps I was void of all thought;
Perhaps it was plain to foresee,
That a nymph so compleat would be sought
By a swain more engaging than me.
Ah! love ev'ry hope can inspire;
It banishes wisdom the while;
And the lip of the nymph we admire
Seems for ever adorn'd with a smile.

She is faithless, and I am undone!
Ye that witness the woes I endure,
Let reason instruct you to shun
What it cannot instruct you to cure.
Beware how ye loiter in vain
Amid nymphs of an higher degree:
It is not for me to explain
How fair, and how fickle they be.

Alas! from the day that we met,
What hope of an end to my woes?
When I cannot endure to forget
The glance that undid my repose.
Yet time may diminish the pain:
The flow'r, and the shrub, and the tree,
Which I rear'd for her pleasure in vain,
In time may have comfort for me.

The sweets of a dew-sprinkled rose,
The sound of a murmuring stream,
The peace which from solitude flows,
Henceforth shall be Corydon's theme.
High transports are shewn to the sight,
But we are not to find them our own;
Fate never bestow'd such delight,
As I with my Phyllis had known.

O ye woods, spread your branches apace;
To your deepest recesses I fly;
I would hide with the beasts of the chace;
I would vanish from every eye.
Yet my reed shall resound thro' the grove
With the same sad complaint it begun;
How she smil'd, and I could not but love;
Was faithless, and I am undone!

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